BEIJING (Reuters) - Most of China's provinces are ahead of schedule or on track to meet 2015 energy savings targets, the government said on Friday, with Beijing and Shanghai among the frontrunners as the world's No.2 economy seeks to reduce its impact on the environment.
China has pledged to reduce its energy intensity - the amount of energy it uses to add a dollar to its gross domestic product (GDP) - to 16 percent below 2010 levels by 2015.
Beijing's intention in setting the targets was to slow emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases and cut expensive fuel imports, but they have won new relevance with the pollution crisis that has enveloped the nation the past two years.
The central government has distributed the cut targets in a 10-18 percent range across the provinces.
Data released by China's top economic planner the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) showed that 26 of 30 regions had achieved more than 60 percent of their targets by the end of last year. No overall number for China was given.
Yang Fuqiang, an environmental expert with U.S.-based non-government agency Natural Resources Defense Council, said China would meet its 2015 target.
"But for the (following) five-year period, there is not much that can be done to improve end users' efficiency, other than clean up the entire energy mix," he said.
Amid a slowing economy and rising public anger over pollution, China has in recent years closed down thousands of old, inefficient coal plants and stamped out overcapacity in iron, steel and cement production.
The north-eastern province of Jilin had already achieved more than its 16-percent target, while Sichuan (96.5 pct), Chongqing (94.5 pct) and Beijing (91 pct) were also over-achieving, according to the NDRC data.
Shanghai and manufacturing hub Hebei, both with 82 percent of their targets met, were also ahead of schedule, along with Henan and Hunan. Most others had achieved 60-80 percent.
The data also confirmed concerns that some of China's pollution is being moved to the poor, western interior.
Energy intensity in the troubled Xinjiang province worsened by 200 percent over the period, a trend NDRC attributed to a boom in new energy-intensive projects.
Qinghai and Ningxia, also western provinces, were trailing far behind their targets as local economic development relies heavily on coal.
"Those regions are given looser investment restrictions in building new coal-burning generators ... (to) give room for economic growth to catch up with the richer regions in the east," said Li Yan, a climate and energy expert with Greenpeace.
"More developed regions must cap their coal use to reconstruct their economies and energy mix, but that acts as a catalyst for coal industries in the west to expand their production to fill the gap," she told Reuters.
(Reporting by Stian Reklev and Kathy Chen; Editing by Tom Hogue)